ENGLAND had amateurs before she possessed an art. Henry VIII. was Holbein's best customer. Charles I.'s advisers bought the finest works of the Italians, Flemings, and Dutchmen. From the time of Van Dyck, the great and little masters of the seventeenth century had a second home on the Thames. If a taste for the arts had been the determining factor, we might well wonder with Macaulay why, at the end of Charles II.'s reign, England had no native artist whose name deserved remembrance. But this very wonder touches a portion of the problem presented by the history of art in the island kingdom. For as a fact this poverty was by no means astonishing, and the present state of things in England is a consequence of those same causes which Macaulay overlooked. The start was momentous. All art is to some extent illustration, especially all youthful art. It should be so, just as the first stories that delight a child should be fairy tales. But English art was not. It did not spring from the nation, but came from without. It matters little that its first products were imports, for the same thing happened in other lands. But it was the demand and not only the supply that was an importation. The English tried to graft before they had a stock. If German art resisted inoculation overmuch, English art went to the opposite extreme. The faults of German art were errors of development, the results of a violent interruption in middle age. It had a happy nursery. English art had none. Lacking youth, it lacked also enthusiasm, confident self-surrender to a great cause, the earnest purpose which nerves the powers, gives self-sacrificing earnestness to individualism to help it on its way, and rears, not egotists, but heroes. Every art requires concrete ideals at the beginning, a body that even the poor can grasp and understand, in order to rise to spiritual heights above all material aims. It was only the essays of primitive times in the simplest variations which gave the period of fruition power to materialise the abstractions of its ideal, and to create an art which still points out the path to the future. All the elements of a nation must contribute to successful natural selection. Although in our own times progress inevitably leads to an aristocracy which sells the enjoyment of our highest good at a steadily increasing price, the beginning was always purely democratic, and the remembrance of this past, the knowledge that things were not thus brought about in purely arbitrary fashion, comforts us in the contemplation of our multiple refinements. England's dawning art was not the usual necessary utterance of the race. Not national but plutocratic instincts stood round its cradle. It began with a commercial commodity, the stereotyped portrait. Having so much, rich people wished to have pictures too.
This origin deprived English painting of the power to speak to the hearts of men. From the first it was by nature what it has now become of necessity: luxury,